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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  February 21, 2011 12:00pm-12:30pm EST

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>> good evening, from los angeles, i am tavis: myerlee. we're having a conversation with one of the biggest brand names in the fashion industry, kenneth cole. he is his 20th year of the chairman of the company that bears his name. he now serves as the chairman of the american foundation for aids research, amfar. also, a special performance from esperanza spalding. as you know, this past weekend, she was a surprise best new artist winner. while her name may be new to some of you, she joins us back here. we bring a special performance from her self titled cd. we bring you can of cold and
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performance from esperanza spalding. >> all i know is that his name is james and he needs extra help reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference. >> i do. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis: smiley. nationwide insurance is proud help adultis to literacy. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: i am pleased to welcome
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chemical to this program. in 1982, unable to get a permit to sell shoes during market week in new york, he was able to assert -- to get a permit by being a production crew. in less than four days, he sold 40,000 pairs of shoes. the rest, as they say, and is history. kenneth cole productions is with the company is still called. kenneth cole, we're delighted to have you on this program. >> thank you so much. i'm glad to be your. >> we're glad to have you. i wanted to start with the twitter controversy. let's get that out of the way. let me go to two other things that you have done. you're always edgy. whenever i see a kenneth cole at, i stop. it is a witty, creative, aged,
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and sometimes provocative. i recall this add that to have up on the screen, which to put out when mandela was released from prison. a nation of people improve their standing overnight, all without a semi-annual sales. chemical. i love that peace. -- kenneth cole. i love that peace. now there's nothing to keep anyone from coming to our semi- annual sales. very creative. that is mandela. that is the berlin wall. then there is the recent uprising in egypt. you tweeted this. "millions are in uproar in cairo. rumor is they hurt our new spring collection is now
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available online" et cetera, et cetera what happened this time that that some people a little upset? you have done these things before and have not gotten that kind of response. >> there was no social media before. there was not this viral mechanism for people to express their rage and/or passions possibly or otherwise -- positively or otherwise. the new world is trying to understand its implications and its new boundaries. what i have done for my entire career is sought ways to make a way to talk about the importance of social issues and put them in context, in effect, tried to make what i do bigger than it was, talking to people not just about what they are on the outset, but on the inside. i find that you cannot -- you
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have to be very careful on how you connect with people. to the degree that you implement some self-deprecating humor, it is more powerful in dialogue. i do not take what i do all that seriously. i love what i do and i love that what i do is different every day. i love that i have impact on how people present themselves. should i be afforded that privilege. clothes and shoes, it doesn't really change anybody's life. but if i can make what i do when powerful and more meaningful, then that is great. but i do not ticket all the answers appeared people -- i do not take it all that seriously. people that know the brand know that. you have two different groups of people that responded. i regret, in effect, that the timing was inopportune. it could have been communicated
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at a different time and it would have been perceived differently. but the world of social me it is astounding. >> to your point, -- tavis: to your point, it is astounding. we can move past that now. but how social media has impacted your business, your brand over the years, i was just doing an interview this morning and i was asked a question about this. i am a brand and no where near the can of cola brand, but i have had to wrestle myself with the fact, whether you like it or loathe it, agree with it or disagree with it, you cannot avoid social media anymore. it is the way people communicate. it is with the world is headed. you better learn to understand, appreciate, embrace it as best you can, and make it work for you. how has the new media impact of the way you do business these days? >> it has impacted the way business is done, not just my business, every business. we talk with people differently.
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we communicate with them differently. i used to be in a seasonal business. today, people's expressions are communicated in moments, not seasonally. it is by now-we're now -- it is buy now, wear now. it is not just the the least amongst us. everybody has that right and that opportunity today. it is extraordinary. it is not a monologue. it is a dialogue. it is our job to listen. and the better we are at listening, the better we are at responding and, cleverly, the better it is for everybody. >tavis: on a personal level, did you go easily or, like me, did you have to go kicking and
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screaming? >> i struggled with it a little bit. i embrace twitter because i felt that this is a form that i can communicate a social voice. we have the traditional ways that we communicate, the fashion, the way the brand exists on both fronts. and i always have welcomed and will continue to welcome the opportunity to do that. i will be more thoughtful going forward. but you cannot disregard it. i do not personally use facebook. there is a corporate facebook were we communicate with our friends and supporters. tavis: i told you i was a can of cold fan. i have worn kenneth cole shoes many times in my life. [laughter] i want to get that out there. full disclosure. that said, where did the idea come from to be edgy, so
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interesting and in fivinsightfun the ads? >> over the years, i invariably put myself in the customers' shoes, in the hope that they would want to put themselves in mind. tavis: that sounds like a nice kenneth cole -- i put myself in their shoes and i hope they put themselves in mind. >> we wake up in the morning and we are overwhelmed with people trying to get our attention. you go to the local newspaper and there are hundreds of different voices that are being communicated, some editorial, sumter advertising. at the end of the day, you have to filter that. the best editors ultimately get their message across. so how do i get through, how do i communicate? to the degree i can inspire you and i can get a little more of
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your attention and get you to take something away from those few moments that you afforded me, then our relationship grows even bigger. then the message tends to be provocative and there is often the use of puns, which annoys many. at the end of the day, hopefully, it makes you think. hopefully, that ability to interpret and take your own mind set to the process is very powerful. i use the notion -- i tried to use humor because that is very important. i do not believe you can convince hardly anyone of anything if they are deep-rooted in that thought, in that mind set. but i have felt that humor brings down walls. that is why john stewart is successful. that is why certain people are very successful, more so than many others, in breaking
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through and to contemplate a different mindset. but in the advertisement, i do it as well. sometimes, you will get through them and they will not realize that you got through them. the walls will come down. the first that i did like this was at or about the same time of the aids awareness in the late 1980's. of imelda marcos craziness, the tabloid media went crazy because this woman was known to have 3000 pairs of shoes in her closet. i ran an ad that said, "if mlb marcus truly had 3000 pairs of shoes, she could have had the -- "if imelda marcos truly at 3000 pairs of shoes, she could've had the courtesy to buy a pair of mine." [laughter]
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i am constantly contemplating that scenario. in the notion of not being able to convince people, necessarily, and people will not necessarily respond to something because you ask them to. people rarely do. i did a campaign was with a series of statistics. i think you have them here. a couple of them were like three or four people looking into telescopes you're not into astronomy. [laughter] one will say that one in 27 people executed will be in a set. tavis: overtime. >> yes. i am not likely to have gone through to anybody with the idea of the death penalty. but they are inclined to conceivably rethink their thought process and maybe change
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their own mind. but it is their own process that change their mind. tavis: you are socially conscious. i have just heard you expand on three or for social issues. but the one that stands at more than all the others, the one that your the most passionate about, it is amfar, hiv/aids. you were one of the first in the fashion industry who were way out front. fashion week is upon us as we speak. you came out early on this issue. why hiv/aids? why are you so vocal? why wrack your brand around it? why are you so connected -- why wrap your brand around it? why are you so connected to it? >> it was the mid-1980's. there was social consciousness in the 1980's. hands across america, we are the
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world, lighted, world aid. i wanted to be a part of something meaningful. this was also about world hunger. nobody was talking about -- the most ominous cloud up there was hiv. you could not talk about it. there was a stigma. if you spoke about it, you were perceived to be at risk. that meant that you were either haitian, gay, or an intravenous drug user. i was a single male designer and i thought everyone would assume that i was haitian. [laughter] but i figured, what better opportunity to say something when no one was. ronald reagan did not mention aids publicly until 1987. that was two years later after 80,000 people have already died. people were devastated already. people have already died. and i knew somebody who was very sick as well.
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it was just relevant and important. it was the right business message, i felt, for the brand at the time. it became very personal after that. i was afforded the privilege to be part of something that was meaningful and to truly impact people's lives. i was asked to join the board of amfar. there were maybe 18 aids organizations at the time in america. now there is probably 18,000. amfar does research. a cure for aids will come from what amfar does. amfar has made a profound impact. it has helped save the lives of many people everywhere. the previous chairperson of the
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board agreed to step down only .f i took over > tavis: you mentioned the impact this had on the fashion industry over the years. i can probably prejudge your answer, given that you were one of the people who pushes this passion in front of us every day. what is the role that passion plays in our lives and whether or not a place too heavy a role? we live in the world consumption. everybody wants to have everybody else has. it is that old notion of "keeping up with the joneses." you guys put the stuff in front of us and everybody wants to have it. we'd look like a bunch of automatons. we all wear the same thing and look the same way. in your own words, what is the impact that fashion has in our lives every day? >> i make those documents every day -- i make both arguments
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today. it is relevant and hardly relevant at all. in the first case, you wicked in the morning and you make a very critical decision of how you will -- you wake up in the morning and you make a very critical decision of how you will present yourself that day. many do not get to know much about two other than how you choose to present yourself. it is say crucial moment that you take. it is unedited, unfiltered, and you have absolute control of how you want to be in people's minds for that moment in time. and there are guys who say, kenneth, that fashion guy, and they will look at the shoes and they make them feel better. that is fine. but that is as big a statement as any. that is ok. people are on their way. but you should take a few moments and think about that moment. and if you're sick and you
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cannot feed your family, it does not matter. so it is also not important. i remind my associates every day that no one needs what we sell. if every store in america closed its stores tomorrow, america could go barefoot -- america would not go barefoot for 20 years. we have plenty of clothes to wear. at the end of the day, if we make what we do part of something bigger than it is, it somehow becomes more important. that is also what goes back to what we were talking about earlier. it comes for circle -- it comes full circle. tavis: you are a doting father, i am told. you have three girls. we know that you are married to
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a cuomo daughter. that means one brother-in-law is the governor of new york -- is the mayor of new york -- is the governor of new york. you guys are very influential and socially conscious. >> they are all great in their own right. maria's father is extraordinary. he was new york's governor for 16 years ago for three terms. christopher is extraordinary, there to kill it. he has a wonderful way of powerfully articulating. i am now jokingly referred to as a governor-in-law.
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angela is with new york was desperately needed. he is very focused. and i have a wonderful wife. she is equally focused, but she does not do it as publicly as they do. she has given me three beautiful daughters. tavis: and then there is kenneth cole. >> who makes stuff. tavis: yes. and convinces us to buy it anyway. [laughter] i'm glad you came out here. >> thank you. tavis: up next, a special performance from this year's best new artist, this new grammy-winner, esperanza spalding. stay with us. tavis: two years ago, we introduced you to esperanza spalding was just beginning to gain some notice in the jazz world, not only for her talent,
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but also for her hair. two years after her first appearance on this program, she made grammy history by becoming the first jazz musician to win in the category of best new artist. tonight, we begin to our music archives to bring you a song we have never shown before. esperanza spalding performing "precious" from her self-titled cd. laa la la la la ♪ la la la la dee dee ♪ oh ♪ na na na ♪ ♪
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♪ dee deela la ♪
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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ nothing wrong with me ♪
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♪ ♪ ♪ you always wanted something more from my body ♪ and said you needed something more from my loving ♪ but all you got was me and that's all that i can be ♪ i'm sorry if it let you down ♪ you always wanted something more from my body ♪ and said you needed something more from my loving ♪ but all you got was me and that's all that i can be ♪ but i'm not going to sit
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around and waste my precious divine energy there is nothing wrong with me ♪ laa la la ♪ da da da da ♪ ooooh tavis: for more information on today's show, visit >> all i know is his name is james. he needs extra help with his reading. >> i and james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference. >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports
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tavis smiley. nationwide is proud to join tavis to improve literacy. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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